My parents have a tight knit group of old friends. They met them in their childhood neighborhoods, elementary school classrooms, and first jobs. Because most of them stayed in Michigan, the most wondrous state in the country, they’ve remained close. So, despite my parents both having siblings, they created another family for my sister and I. Their friends became our pseudo-aunts and almost-uncles and the children of these friends became our cousins. These relationships have been wells of love, acceptance, and joy over our lives. But this post isn’t about that. That’s just an introduction to the real point of the post, which is why I feel real flexible about time and the reason I latched so quickly onto Einstein’s theory of relativity.
One of these nearly-aunts and practically-uncles had a home that was perfect for summer barbecues and evening hang out sessions. It was on a bunch of land and we’d go there in the afternoon, wander around the woods, and eat corn on the cob. After awhile, it’d get dark, and we’d go inside. The adults would talk and do other boring adult things and the four kids—me, my sister, and our two almost-cousins—would play whatever ridiculous game that happened to slip its way into our minds. Then, inevitably, some parent would come in and tell us it was time to go home.
At that point, we’d turn our heads to a big clock on that wall that was stuck. We’d exclaim, “It can’t possibly be time to go. Look! It’s not even 9pm.” And our parents were convinced. They’d retreat and keep talking about politics or hamburgers or whatever it is adults discuss. On average, we could persuade them 3.67 times before they finally gave in to the pull of responsibility.
We thought we were really compelling. We thought we were playing a trick on them. We thought we’d become master manipulators. Ok, we knew they knew. We did it every weekend. Grown-ups are dumb, but they aren’t that dumb. Clearly, our parents wanted it to actually be early in the night too. They wanted to stay and have more fun, so they let it be true. It seemed so easy to make it real. We just said it wasn’t time to go and it wasn’t.
Later, when I learned about the strangeness of time—the weird in-between in which it lives, being both so innately real and so rooted in nothing—it didn’t phase me. I was comfortable with its pliability. When a high school acquaintance of mine became obsessed with the ticking of his watch, in that way a teenager becomes obsessed with something he thinks is profound, I was uninterested. He would snap his fingers along with the second hand and announce, “This is how fast time passes.” I would turn my head and think of the clock that never moved. I’d remember that those tick-tocks don’t mean anything more than what we’ve all assigned them to mean.
It’s also the clock I think of when I’m late for work in the morning, when I miss a train, or when I walk into a party an hour after it starts. It’s not an excuse. I’m not being rude. I’m just enlightened.